Thursday, 20 November 2014

Convent Dinner

Convent Dinner aka Bangers and Mash, but so much better!

This oddly named repast is warming, spicy and quick, based on hot Italian sausage, canned tomatos, vegetables and mashed potatoes.  My mother named it after the noon meal served to her as a child when she attended ‘The Little Flower Academy’ if you can believe it.  Because we’re talking almost 100 years ago, I suspect the nun who made this dish relied on her own preserved tomatoes, and probably her sausages were less spicy. 

My father recognized this meal as ‘bangers and mash’, and while I enjoyed my mother’s breakfast link sausage version as a child, I’ve enhanced it with extra vegetables and flavours.  This is ready in well under forty-five minutes, and it will serve four if you have four sausages. 

4 hot Italian sausages (maybe more if you’re really hungry)

4 potatoes, cut into chunks 
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
water to just cover potatoes
¼ cup butter
¼ cup milk, or cream (approximately)

1 teaspoon canola oil
1 red onion, diced
10 to 15 mushrooms, sliced
15 grates fresh black pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
4 chili peppers, finely diced (or to taste)
¼ red cabbage, finely sliced
1 can tomatoes, (28 ounce size)

Poke sausages with a fork and grill them, either in a pan under the oven broiler or in a barbecue.  While they’re cooking (about ten minutes on each side) start potatoes.  When the sausages are done, let rest on a cutting board. 
Get these at a big box store or specialty shop.

Put the potatoes, garlic , salt and water into a large scratch proof pot and set on high heat.  Cover, when potatoes start to boil, uncover and bring heat down to medium high.  You want most of the water to boil off.

While the potatoes are cooking, add oil to a non-stick saucepan and place on medium high heat.  Cook onions till translucent and golden at some edges.  Add the mushrooms and cook them till they start to get golden here and there.  Add the black pepper, oregano and chilies and cook for a couple more minutes.  Add the cabbage, and cook for another five, stirring occasionally.  It’s important for these items to caramelise just a bit to get really good flavours. 

While the vegetables are gently cooking, check on the potatoes.  When they are very soft and tender, pour off remaining liquid and turn off heat.  People who like mashed potatoes fall into two categories.  Some like them super smooth, almost like wallpaper paste.  Those types use an electric beater to pulverize them into submission.  I am a texture person.  I leave the peels on and I use a hand masher.
You could skimp on butter, but why?
 

Either way, add the butter and perhaps a spoonful or two of the potato water if you’re cutting some calories.  Otherwise, add milk or cream, just a bit at a time.  Mash potatoes as you prefer.  Check for taste and consistency, adding a bit more salt or liquid.  Cover while continuing with vegetables and sausages.

Finally, open the tomatoes and carefully pour the liquid into the pan.  Using your fingers deep within the can, gently pry the tomatoes apart.  They will try to squirt, so keep the tomatoes below the top of the can.  The idea is to get them into manageable pieces.  Add to vegetables.

Browning all the veg a bit improves flavour.
When the sausages are cool enough to handle, slice them either into coins or angled pieces.  Add to the tomato mixture to reheat for a few minutes.


Dollop mashed potatoes into a big bowl, ladle tomato mixture over all, being generous with the sausage, and enjoy.  This is comfort food, heavy, yet spicy and full of healthy vegetables.  I like to think those Little Flower Academy nuns are watching down, drooling, and mum’s elbowing them out of the way for her fair share.


Gloriously good, hearty, warming, and reasonably healthy...

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Plan Ahead Cook it Quickly Butter Chicken

Plan Ahead Cook It Quickly Butter Chicken

I hate to call this a quick and easy butter chicken when it requires overnight marinating, and a sauce you need to make beforehand, but how else to sell this delicious recipe?  Normally butter chicken is made in two stages, the creamy sauce is made indoors, and the chicken is grilled outdoors, but who here can afford a $20,000 tandoor oven, and who wants to work over a regular barbecue when it's 20 below zero Fahrenheit?  This method isn't traditional, but it works.

You will need my Emergency Masala Tomato Sauce for this recipe, or a facsimile.  Doctor up a jarred tomato sauce with fried onions and garam masala, and you might be fine.  If you must, you can marinate the chicken in the morning, but the longer you marinate, the better the flavours.

1 cup plain yogurt
2 inch length ginger, coarsely chopped
5 hot chilies, coarsely chopped
5 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
8 skinned chicken pieces (I use thighs but breast is even faster to cook)

1 tablespoon ghee
1 cassia or cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon garam masala
sprinkles of salt
1 tablespoon heavy cream (optional)

Smoked paprika lends important flavours here!
Make the marinade first by putting the yogurt, ginger, chilies, smoked paprika and garlic into a blender and buzz till smooth.  Put the chicken into a glass bowl and pour in the marinade.  Cover and refrigerate overnight, and into the next afternoon if possible. 

About 30 minutes before dinner, heat a large non-stick saucepan on medium high heat.  Add the ghee and cinnamon stick.  Pull one piece of chicken out of the marinade at a time.  Use your fingers or a spatula to leave most of the marinade behind.  Put chicken into the hot ghee one piece at a time, taking care to let each piece get as golden as possible.  Once all are mostly gold, add that marinade and the Emergency Masala Tomato sauce.

Keep on high heat a few minutes till all is boiling, then turn the heat down to medium. 
Cook till the chicken is tender and the sauce is thickened, about thirty minutes.  At the last minute, taste for saltiness and add the garam masala and that heavy cream, if you want an especially silky and luxurious taste.

This is great with basmati rice or even better with chapattis, which take a fare bit more work.  I made it for my bookclub in September, and everyone thought I’d spent the day slaving over a hot stove…


If you have the time to get organized, a little bit of work on a quiet day brings the appearance of a great deal of work on a frantic day.  This delicious meal is well worth that effort on that dull and boring day!  If you haven’t made that sauce yet, quick fooling around on your computer and start cooking!

You can serve this with chapattis, or over basmati rice, garnished prettily.  

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Almond Masala Stew

Almond Masala Stew with a chapatti and a bit of plain yogurt

Are you frantically hungry and wanting something delicious in a big hurry?  Within fifteen minutes you can be munching on this vegan delight, or perhaps vegetarian, if you add a little butter or cream. Spicy, filling and healthy, it will warm you completely on a cold winter’s day.

The only hitch is that the basis of the stew is my Emergency Masala Tomato Sauce, which you really should have in large quantities in your freezer.  Failing that, I suppose you could make a facsimile with a jarred tomato sauce that you doctor up by frying onions and  garam masala, then dumping in the sauce to heat through.  But don't get me started on factory foods...

You can serve this with rice, but start beforehand, because this almond recipe will be done before the rice is cooked.

½ cup almonds
2 cups emergency masala tomato sauce (frozen is ok)
1 bunch of spinach leaves (or a box of frozen) (optional)
1 small splash of water, if needed
1 tablespoon whipping cream or butter (so optional!)

Toasting almonds takes just a couple of minutes.
Toss the almonds into a blender and buzz for about thirty seconds.  A combination of powder and bits will provide the right taste and texture.

Put a non-stick sauce pan on medium high heat.  Add the almonds.  (I later use that almond powder left in the blender for warm almond and cardamom milk, but that’s another recipe.) Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir the almonds around for a couple of minutes to ensure they get toasty and golden, then add the sauce. 

If the sauce is frozen, keep the heat high, and stir and flip over occasionally to help thaw.  You may want to add a couple of spoons of water if there’s a danger of the almonds burning if the sauce isn’t melting fast enough.  If you’re using frozen spinach, add it while tomato is still frozen.

Keep the tomato sauce boiling till it’s reduced and somewhat thick.  If fresh spinach is desired, add it late in the process to keep it green. Spinach takes less than five minutes to heat through and soften up slightly.  If you’re going to indulge in cream or butter, add just before serving, giving it just time to warm through.


Fifteen minutes later and you’ll be experiencing heaven.  This makes a great breakfast, lunch or light supper.  If you haven’t started a batch of Emergency Masala Tomato Sauce, do it now!  Recipe for butter chicken will be coming along soon, and you’ll need it for that too! 
Another time I omitted the spinach but served it with kerela, curd and a chapatti. Another delicious lunch for me!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Ginger, Date and Walnut Whole Grain Muffins

Ginger, Date and Walnut Whole Grain Muffins

The frosty winter is upon us, and so we crave sweet carbs.  One way to slow down your carb consumption is to make the goodie textured, so textured you are obliged to chew for a while.  Adding protein also helps.  Also the more complex and warming the flavours, the better they satisfy.

These muffins are sweet, gooey, spicy, salty(ish) and very grainy, and filled with protein. Everything you want when you’re experiencing those cravings.

This recipe makes two dozen, and is ready to eat in about one and a half hours, including cooling time. Preheat your oven to 425 Fahrenheit.

1 cup pitted dates
3/4 cup water
30 or so scrapes of peeled ginger ( potato peeler will do)
1 tablespoon white sugar

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 ½ cups porridge oats (contain oats, flaxseed, wheat germ and oat germ) You can use plain oats if you want less chewiness.
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons jaggery powder (raw Indian sugar or brown sugar)
1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon powder
1 heaping teaspoon dried ginger powder (more if you love heat)
1 cup chopped walnuts

1 and 7/8th cups plain yogurt (nearly 2 cups)
1 egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or ghee, which is clarified butter available on Indian grocery shelves)
½ cup molasses

Ginger is translucent and sticky when ready.
Combine dates, water and strips of ginger in a pot and set on medium high.  The idea here is to soften the dates and let the water evaporate till about a quarter of a cup is left.  Meanwhile, get to work on the muffin batter.

In a medium size bowl, combine dry ingredients with a fork.  Add walnuts and combine.  Set aside.

In a second medium size bowl, add the yogurt.  You want almost two cups worth, but not quite. Remove the dates from the pot, and gently pull apart.  Set aside.  Add sugar to the ginger and water, and set to boil. 

Make more candied ginger and go hog wild, unlike me!
When the syrup from the ginger pieces has reduced to about a tablespoon, add it to the yogurt to bring the measure up to two cups. Plop those date pieces into the batter.  Coming across these gooey lovelies makes eating these delightful.

Stir the date pieces and syrup into the yogurt, then stir the egg into the yogurt.  You can use vegetable oil or ghee, but I used ghee.  (The devil made me do it.) Pour oil or ghee into a measuring cup, coating halfway up the sides of the cup, then add that to the yogurt.  Pour the molasses into that cup then into the yogurt.  (An oily cup releases the molasses easily.)  Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture.  Gently stir till ingredients are combined.

Recipe adapted from my 1971 New York Times cookbook.
Spoon the batter into paper lined muffin tins.  Place a strip of candied ginger on top of each muffin.  Some lucky muffins get more than one, but don’t go hog wild if you’re thinking of calories. 

Bake about twenty minutes, or till a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool off a bit on racks and enjoy while still warm.

These are nowhere near as sweet or greasy as store-bought muffins, but they are lovely indeed. Fragrant, chewy, sweet in spots, oh my.  Please try them and let me know how they turned out!

Breakfast never tasted so good.


Monday, 10 November 2014

Emergency Masala Tomato Sauce

Emergency Masala Tomato Sauce makes a great vegan almond stew!

You never know when you’re going to be too lazy to cook, so when you have some extra tomatoes and extra energy on hand, get to work!  I made and then froze this sauce about a month ago, when my home grown tomatoes had ripened and were lingering in my basement.  You can make this sauce with any fresh or canned tomatoes.

I had a lot of tomatoes that needed to be used up, and many of them were the super sweet Sun-Golds.  If your tomatoes don’t have this sweetness, I’d suggest adding a tablespoon or so of brown sugar, or jaggery (raw Indian cane sugar) if you have it. 
These were ripe and had to be used fast!

My recipe made about sixteen cups of sauce, but that’s because I had so many tomatoes.  You can make this in smaller quantities.  It took about two and a half hours to make, from start to finish, and much of that involved me reading and talking on the phone. 

2 sticks cassia
2 Kashmiri dried chilies
1 heaping tablespoon cumin seed
1 heaping tablespoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
½ teaspoon fenugreek seed
½ teaspoon black cumin seed
¼ teaspoon mace flakes
1 teaspoon fennel seed
4 green cardamom pods, crushed with husks removed
1 black cardamom, crushed with husk removed
1 heaping teaspoon ground turmeric

2 tablespoons good vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
2 large red onions, diced
1 shopping bag full of ripe tomatoes (gathered from the greenhouse, then the basement ripening floor), or the equivalent, or many less if you can divide the amounts below…
1 head garlic, broken apart, ends trimmed and most of paper and debris removed
2 inch stem ginger, roughly sliced
2 fresh hot chilies (or to taste)
salt (to taste)
1 tablespoon brown sugar or jaggery if your tomatoes aren’t sweet enough (taste first)

Over the next few months I expect to use much of this sauce as the basis for my beautiful granddaughter’s favourite, butter chicken.  With her in mind, I kept the chilies at the mild level.  If more daring types eat your cooking, increase the heat factor.  (You can always add extra chilies while you’re reheating this, remember!)
Sun-Golds, eventually stemmed, with roughly cut ginger

Start by roasting your whole spices.  Use the large pot you’ll be cooking the sauce in.  Scatter the spices over the bottom of the dry pan, and roast on medium high heat, shaking the pot a little, till they smell gorgeous.  Remove from heat.  Pluck out the cassia sticks and load all else into spice grinder along with the turmeric powder.  Set aside to cool.

Put the pot back on the heat and add oil and cassia sticks.  When hot, add the cumin and mustard seed.  As soon as they splutter and shift colour, add the onion.  Reduce heat to medium, and cook till onions are translucent and golden at the edges.

Here we have a lot of sauce coming up!
Meanwhile, load tomatoes, ginger, chillies and garlic into the blender.  (I trim the hard ends of the garlic and remove most of the paper and scraps, but I’ve been assured the closest paper on the garlic cloves enhances their flavour.) Buzz till smooth, which should take a couple of minutes.  I had two blenders worth of tomatoes, so I did this in two stages. 

Once you have a blender’s worth of pureed tomatoes, grind the spices till they’re powdered, and add to the onions.  You may need to add a bit more oil if they’re too dry.  Fry for a couple of minutes.  With the pot lid handy, add the pureed tomato mixture.  Quickly cover the pot.  While the first load bubbled and sizzled away, I pureed my next batch of tomatoes and flavourings.  This sauce bubbles up like lava, so be careful about opening the pot till it’s settled down.  Add all tomatoes, and rinse  blender with a little water into the pot to get every last tomato molecule.   Taste. Mine was a little too acidic, so I added about a teaspoon of sugar, but you may want more if you aren’t using super sweet tomatoes.
This will need to cook a while, being stirred occasionally.

Cook for about an hour and a half, till the oil separates a bit.  Stir from time to time.  Read the newspaper. Chat on the phone.  Take off heat, let cool and then freeze what you don’t use immediately. 

I’ve been making a quick and easy vegan almond stew with this sauce, to be explained soon.  Super easy butter chicken will also be on the menu.  Stay tuned.



I, for one, will remain undaunted by this cold and snowy weather which induces horrible laziness on my part. This beautiful sauce will make many quick and delicious meals that will keep us warm, satisfied and toasty. 

It's ready when it's reduced and looks gorgeous!